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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This is an outstanding biography of a man who, paradoxically, had all sorts of unattractive views and kinds of behaviour but nonetheless, as delineated here, is hugely, fallibly human and sympathetic. The title 'A Writer's Life', is taken from Monica Jones, his close friend/companion/soulmate/lover over many years, and it is a just title - incomparably great as a poet, Larkin also wrote novels (two published, others unpublished or started and never finished), essays, reviews and stories. Indeed, writing was what drove him, along with a great love of jazz, reading and his work as the accomplished Librarian of the Brynmor Jones Library at Hull University. What would seem unpalatable about him - for example, his unwillingness - it was really inability - to commit fully in relationships, his selfishness, his dismissive views on many topics - had their root in self-loathing, so that at one and the same time he could lament his many shortcomings, as he saw them, and recognise that he was a 'genius'. In writing this, however, I am aware that I am over-simplifying to the point of distortion ; what the book makes clear is that this was a very complex man, and the depth and sensitivity of Motion's analysis goes a very long way to revealing what made him what he was. In other words, you have to read the book!! It tells a compelling story, but it also is frequently amusing. In his professional life as a librarian and in his personal life as a shy and sometimes remote friend, Larkin could be very funny, and often his turns of phrase, when Motion quotes him, are quirky and entertaining. There is expert analysis of the poetry, a good deal of quotation from poems we are unlikely to come across, an exploration of his unpublished novels (including the two lesbian romances he wrote as a young man), fascinating insights into his complicated relationships with the small group of women who were really important to him for long or short periods of his life - his mother Eva, Ruth Bowman, Monica Jones, Maeve Brennan, Patsy Strang, Judy Egerton. Betty Mackereth - his rise from the obscurity of the small regional library at Wellington near Shrewsbury to the pre-eminence of Hull where, finally, he had a staff of almost 100 (and where, supported by the Vice-Chancellor, he fulfilled an expert and committed role in the design and building of the new University Library) - and a good deal more. As the book ends with his approaching death and then the reality of it and the funeral, it becames very moving ; and by that time he is, of course, pre-eminent among British poets. Characteristically he dreads the offer of Poet Laureate and refuses it when it comes, partly through shyness, partly through the sense that his best years as a poet are over, though not without a feeling of guilt and also of regret that he has 'let Ted Hughes in' ; 'the thought of being the cause of Ted Hughes being buried in Westminster Abbey is hard to live with'. Motion, of course, knew Larkin well and met him often over a long period of time, but he never allows his personal admiration for the man, which in another context he has called 'love', cloud his assessment of the life and work ; this is a 'warts-and-all' portrayal. I don't think Larkin would have wished it any other way ; it is a wonderful book.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2005
This is the best biography I have ever read. As a greatly distinguished poet hiself (accepting the Laureateship, whilst Larkin turned it down 25 years earlier), Motion understands the centrality of poetry to Larkin's life, and this is reflected in the book. Larkin's poetry was a continual reflection of his interior states, and so with great empathy and scrupulous research Motion brings these to light. He is unflinching about Larkin's worse aspects and does not absolve Larkin of his racism, sexism and political vituperativeness but explains the impulses from which they sprang. Motion also writes clearly and with no little finesse. A wonderful book.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2005
When Larkin's diaries were burnt (at his request) "the Truth" about him became beyond human reach. Motion's book attempts to discover what might have held the contradictions of "Philip Larkin" together, always with a sensitive eye to the poetry and the prose. We are very unlikely to see a book as thorough as this about Larkin's life again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2014
An excellent and informative biography which not only informs us of the timeline of Larkin's life, but also helps you, as a reader of his poetry, to understand his work on a more personal level. Motion has written an in-depth, comprehensive and fair biography which, although a long read is worth every minute spent.
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on 11 January 2015
It probably takes a good poet to write a decent biog of a great one - and this is successful. The only problem is that Larkin's life is without any real drama - there are no major revelations here - he was a mother fixated, slightly naughty, slightly racist, and successful provincial librarian. But this somewhat drab back story informs his wonderful poetry in ways that become clear once details of that life are revealed. I'm reminded of Alan Bennett's interpretation of one of Larkin's more celebrated lines (you know the one - about parenting). Imagine how incredible Larkin would have been if they really had f*cked him up.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2009
OK, I'm sure it's a great book and I had really looked forward to reading it -- that is, until I actually opened up this paperback edition and found that I would need a magnifying glass. The print is really tiny! This is a thick book, something like 500 pages. I don't see how my eyesight would survive if I were to actually read this. I'm actually now going to locate a hardback edition instead. Presumably that edition will have normal-size type.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2013
This cumbersome book needs to be read sat at a table and with a magnifying glass (and my eyesight is otherwise perfect). This is of course not a star rating of the content but more likely an incidental argument in favour of the Kindle version. Having vowed to never purchase one of those things, I will undoubtedly return to studying the small print when I manage to find the spare hours at the required peaceful table, magnifying glass in hand.
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on 29 March 2015
larkin is important.ask me in twenty years and i might have worked out why.something to do with being english,and truthful.
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on 2 February 2015
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2014
A good read. Research meticulous and excellent.
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